Monday, January 2, 2017


287. AVENEL, Pt. 9
Back in the old days
of NYCity, some
time about the
1830's, they used
to call the street-kids
urchins, as in old
London or something,
and the ones who
hung around print
shops and such, they'd
call 'printer's devils.'
It was just a name
given to the kid
who helped pile
the paper, or cut
and pack, or haul
and move things,
or even set some
type. If a kid did
it long enough, well
enough, he could
be brought in as
an 'apprentice,'
learn the trade
and all that  -
eventually get
a job and even
maybe become
a journeyman or
a master. I was
a bit like that,
hanging around
print shops. The
old hot-lead,
linotype shops,
like NJ Appellate,
and St. George
Press too. Those
old machines had
a suspended 'pig'
of solidified lead,
which, in a really
hot tub suspended
at the machine,
would slowly
melt and make
the thin metal
letter-strips for
each line of type,
(thus 'line o' type').
My entry-level
hang-around jobs
at these places
usually involved
tending the lead
pots, the melting
and reloading of
the pigs, and cleaning
them for re-melt
later (old ink and
stuff had to come
off  -  a brushed
solution and a
scrub did the
trick). And, also,
something called
'cleaning the bands'
which which were
metal spacers that I
had to rub in a tray
of powdered graphite
(like pencil lead) so
the spaces between
words, (when cast)
and eventually,
when printed,
wouldn't have
lines in them.
They had to
remain clear.
For me, at New
Jersey Appellate,
that was a first-task,
daily routine  -
I'd arrive about
seven AM and
have about an hour
before the others
arrived, which
hour I'd spend
preparing the
letterpress trays
and doing the
bands and all,
as I just explained,
heating up the
pots and preparing
the ingots (pigs).
Jim Ratigan would
come in, and, I
think it was, Richard
Martin, and they'd
have to be all ready
and prepared to
go right to work.
For the next six
or seven hours
all they'd do is
set type and then
pull proofs, or
sometimes I'd
do that  -  with
the rest, taking
breaks, cigarettes,
talk, schmoozing.
Dick (as we knew
him) would always
have the latest
TV Guide with
him, funny as it
to see, and he'd
go over carefully,
daily, the night's
line-up of shows
to watch, etc. His
absolute favorite
show, I can still
recall, was
something called
'That Girl', with
Marlo Thomas.
I'm not sure what
it was, never saw
it, but for him she
was everything,
it seemed, in
the world. Also,
he had the same
name as some
guy from Laugh-In,
which show too
they were always
talking about. I
feigned indifference
to all this, and
whenever they asked
why I didn't watch
anything I'd just
say I was 'too
poor to have
a TV.' Worked
every time.
New Jersey Appellate, 
at this time, was in a
place at the bottom 
of Main Street, on 
a railroad siding, 
where once, in the 
1920's era, had 
been Woodbridge 
Feed and Grain  - 
just what it said, 
a railroad siding 
where freight cars 
of grain and seed 
would come in, 
be unloaded, 
and sold to the 
agrarian people 
of the area. Of 
course, that's all 
gone now. And so
were, even then, 
all the chickens 
and the cows, 
as well as any 
idea at all of 
what any of this
may once have 
been about. It no
longer mattered, 
and people didn't 
care. The building 
was vacant, a large 
loft area, filled 
with pigeons 
and open-to-the-sky 
rafters, in the one 
part. We took over 
the useful sections, 
and worked this 
oddball print shop. 
The whole place, 
now, modernized
 and changed, is 
a local brewery 
today  - beer vats, 
dining, outdoor 
porches and all.
Lovers and losers 
alike, out for 
dates and dining.
A big hoo-hah; 
if they only knew. 
It was cold and 
drafty, a bit 
smelly at the 
rear section, 
and pretty 
run-down, in 
the way those
old places got 
 -  the bricks 
slowly turning 
to red powder, 
the concrete or 
masonry, or 
whatever it is 
between the 
brick, the mortar
I guess, falling 
out in chunks. 
The bathroom 
was like a plywood 
afterthought, so 
weirdly apportioned 
that it seemed if 
you needed to sit 
down, you had to 
stand to do it, 
and if you needed 
to stand, you had 
to sit down. Get 
the idea? At first 
there were no girls 
around, so none of 
that mattered  -  
then they hired 
some girl from 
Newark, as a
receptionist, telephone
clerk, and greeter,
and all of a sudden
the bathroom thing
became a big deal. 
No more pissing 
on the wall, as it 
were, and we had
to install a nice
mirror, and one 
of those little vanity, 
or shelf things,with
a mirrored door, like
you see in bathrooms,
for aspirins and toothpaste
and make-up and stuff 
 - she (Marlene) thought 
she was pretty fancy, 
a real Hispanic sex-pot 
vibe going on always, 
and we had to, all of 
a sudden, take care 
of what we said and 
did.  She was OK 
though  -  probably 
30, overweight in 
that Spanish, corn-fed 
way that really only 
'fills out' clothing 
but isn't really any 
fun. Bleached hair, 
long red fingernails, 
all that. And then,
 once a week, I'd 
go over to Metuchen 
and pick up some 
lady they'd hired 
to do the weekly 
payroll and bills, 
for about 5 hours, 
one day a week. 
She lived right 
by Rt. 287, in 
a new split-level, 
from about 1966, 
where they'd 
just built some 
hundred of them
just off Durham 
Ave  - still a 
hard-pack dirt 
road then. The 
macadam ended 
at the old railroad 
tracks at Gulton 
Industries. They 
made batteries 
or something.
Somehow it fell 
to me to be the 
person who 
fetched all 
these people. 
Not Marlene; 
she had her 
own, pretty new,
 '65 Mustang. 
The bookkeeper 
lady, payroll 
clerk, her name 
was Ann; she 
about 50. I'd get 
her, and then 
return her. And 
then I'd run up to 
Newark, to get this 
Spanish kid named 
Angel, a few days 
a week. His name 
was really 'Anhell', 
as others pronounced
it, the Spanish guys,
in Newark. But we 
just called him Angel.
I used to drive him 
back and forth, to 
Newark  -  along
Mulberry Street. I 
never got the whole 
idea; he worked there,
in some sort of industrial 
loft, from which I'd pick 
him up, and then I'd 
drive him down to Main
Street, Woodbridge, 
where he'd work 
with us  -  me and 
the old guy, Emil 
Hazenhall, from Nutley.
I think they knew 
each other from maybe 
working together there. 
Angel was about 18, 
at most, Spanish guy, 
and he already had 
two kids. Emil, on 
the other hand, was 
an old guy, about 60 
then. (Yeah, funny 
how I said 'old', now). 
This was a long time 
back, all this, so it's a 
fair deal old Emil's 
gone to the big print 
shop in the sky 
somewhere, unless
he's like 110. As I 
said, Emil was from 
Nutley, an older, 
guy. At this time, 
I should point out, 
I was working at 
N. J. Appellate 
Printing, not St. 
George Press, 
which was all 
coming later. 
This was a 
stopgap job I 
took when 
some guy got 
drafted and 
sent to Vietnam. 
I was, just then, 
temporarily driving 
a delivery van for them,
and they said, once 
that other guy was 
leaving his job, 'Hey, 
you wanna' come 
inside and learn 
some printing?' I 
said sure, OK. It 
was that simple  -  
lasted a while, taught 
me stuff. I replaced 
a guy on his way
to Vietnam. How 
weird, even then.
One time, always 
working with 
words and junk 
in my head, 
found myself 
laughing  -  at
something I'd 
just said, in the 
car, talking with 
this Angel guy. I 
said 'I'm not able, 
Angel, anyway...' 
as I sat there 
gaping. I forget 
what the subject 
was, but it cracked 
me up, all that 
automatic alliteration. 
I've loved stuff like
 that, always  -  and 
of course it has 
always, as well, 
made for the huge 
gap that usually 
arose between 
myself and other 
people. This Angel 
guy, it didn't 
much matter to 
him : I'd never 
really dealt with 
a 'foreigner' before, 
a person of another 
culture and language,
but what I saw, through 
him, of all that Spanish 
stuff and that culture, 
way back then, was 
an eye opener.  That 
section of Newark, 
Mulberry Street, etc. 
was kind of split 
between small 
craftsmen lofts 
and little factories, 
and the regular 
Hispanic and Italian 
neighborhood stores 
and things. Then, 
at about the same 
time, there was 
beginning an influx 
of Portuguese 
stuff too  -  which 
Portuguese culture, 
called 'Down Neck' 
or the 'Ironbound' 
(because it was 
ringed by the railroads), 
was already 
in another, nearby, 
section. This part 
here was, sort of, 
behind the City 
Hall and civic 
stuff. It's all gone 
now, and even 
the streets are 
closed and barricaded, 
since 9-11, to keep 
errant cars from 
ramming the place, 
filled with bombs 
and the rest. There 
are cops around, 
security booths, 
and checkpoints 
for limited entry 
and permits, etc., 
for the 'governmental
 area. Mulberry Street
 itself has just become 
a ghost-town, a slow 
and crummy nothing 
area. Back then, at
least, it was interesting.

No comments: